Small Wars Journal

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: The View From Pyongyang

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:42am

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: The View From Pyongyang


Robert Collins


As the world watches the precipitous and poorly planned efforts of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan, America’s allies cannot help but to wonder how these unfolding historical events will impact their individual alliances with the U.S. Elements of the Republic of Korea (ROK – South Korea) are no different. Today, the ROK print and broadcast media is full of questions and doubt, as well as ROK politicians who view compromise with North Korea as the primary route to unification of the Korean peninsula.  

For North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the view from Pyongyang has definitely improved from the Kim regime’s perspective of splitting the ROK-US Alliance. The Kim regime has had few opportunities as significant as America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to manipulate the ROK into doubting, even distrusting, its alliance with the U.S. Allied efforts at peace on the peninsula or any expectation that North Korea will accept new conditions in peace negotiations are now demonstrably crippled.

Consequently, it would be foolish to not believe that Kim Jong-un has called secretive meetings of the Korean Workers’ Party (KW) Politburo and the Central Military Committee to review the situation and its impact on the Korean Peninsula. It would be even more foolish to believe that Kim Jong-un has not ordered the KWP Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), the United Front Department (UFD), the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the General Political Bureau (GPB), and any other institution to urgently establish new plans that would take advantage of the ROK doubt in its alliance with the U.S., regardless of how significant or insignificant that doubt may be. This would be applicable to both pre-crisis and mid-crisis.

North Korea’s frontline of propaganda, political agitation, misinformation, disinformation, and target audience manipulation is the KWP PAD. The PAD has many informational tasks and manipulates many themes and messages, while influencing ROK public opinion is just one of them. However, among external information operations, the ROK public is the main target. This effort is led by the PAD Overseas Propaganda Bureau. Some PAD sub-elements focus on counterintelligence propaganda, KWP policy propaganda and war-readiness propaganda, most of which targets the North Korean population. The Kim regime’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) is in direct support of these efforts domestically.

The UFD commands a cyber department that promotes false propaganda targeting the ROK public for the purpose of causing socio-political confrontation within the general public, the ROK government administration, and ROK politicians. It has established a dedicated cyber department that conducts psychological warfare against the ROK through 140 internet websites with servers in 19 overseas countries, including “Uriminjokkiri (Among Our People)” and “Kuguk Chonson (Save the Country Front).” The mission of these 140 websites is to organize cyber tactics to create “revolution in the ROK” which lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the South.  In coordination with the PAD, two primary UFD organizations that focus on the ROK are the 101st Liaison Center and the 26th Liaison Center. 

The 101st Liaison Center, located in front of the Pyongyang Medical College in Yonhwa-1-dong, Chung-gu, Pyongyang. It is responsible for producing fabrications, falsehoods, and distortions – in other words, disinformation – about all three of the North’s Supreme Leader – Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un. The 101st Liaison Center employs 30 experts on South Korean society and culture. They produce novels, poems, and songs proclaiming the glory of the North’s Supreme Leader and distribute them through the KPA Reconnaissance General Bureau’s (RGB) 225th intelligence unit.

The 26th Liaison Center produces videos focusing on admiration for the Supreme Leader, emphasizing that the Supreme Leader is the pivot point of Korean unification. The 26th’s products are particularly designed to shape ROK college students and their efforts at anti-government activities. The 26th operates the Voice of Salvation broadcast system that targets the ROK public. Redefining these efforts to support doubt in the reliability of the U.S. commitment would be an easy transition. The 26th, which also works with the 225th, is located next to Kim Il-sung University gymnasium in Yonghung-dong, Taesong-guyok, Pyongyang.

The PAD and the RGB collaborate to infiltrate the ROK with anti-ROK government and anti-U.S. propaganda. The RGB’s 225th Intelligence Unit is North Korea’s primary infiltration element targeting the ROK and other countries. In collaboration with the Liaison Centers, the 225th carries the products of the 101st and the 26th into the ROK. Targeting ROK confidence in its alliance with the U.S. would be a primary effort of the 225th‘s infiltration assets.

The GPB is responsible for all political activity within the KPA. Moreover, it also  commands the Enemy Operations Department, otherwise known as the 563rd Unit. The 563rd falls under the operational control of the KWP UFD during peacetime.  It conducts clandestine operations against ROK soldiers, as well as kidnapping, propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ, and distributing leaflets and other printed materials.  In wartime, it conducts operations against populations in territories occupied by the KPA, assesses reactionaries, and seeks out KPA supporters. The 563rd Unit’s criticality grows the greater any crisis becomes.

Finally, but most importantly, Kim Jong-un has most likely ordered the operational planning section of the KPA General Staff to coordinate the above efforts with new military plans that would target ROK trust in the alliance, particularly during any road to war and defense conditions elevations during crisis. These operations will also likely be incorporated into efforts to debilitate ROK confidence in its alliance with the U.S. during the alliance’s primary spring and summer command post exercises.

All these regime organizations will operate in high gear, given the catastrophic efforts of U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan. Providing vision for these efforts is China’s efforts to undermine U.S. support for Taiwan and Taiwanese confidence in their relationship with the U.S. The Kim regime will no doubt be on the lookout for newly learned tactics and strategies devised and implemented by the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army.

Kim regime efforts to weaken the ROK-U.S. Alliance will continue to advance and develop over the coming months and will take learning points from every development of the United States’ clumsy withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most importantly, it will use this development to propagandize the superior leadership of Kim Jong-un over that of the United States.



About the Author(s)

Robert Collins is a 37-year veteran employee of the U.S. Department of the Army and served 31 years in various positions with the U.S. military in Korea, the last position as a political advisor for policy and planning to the Commander, ROK-US Combined Forces Command.  He is the author of several reports on North Korean human rights and leadership including  “Marked For Life: Songbun – North Korea’s Social Classification System,”  and "North Korea's Organization and Guidance Department," Committee on Human Rights for North Korea, Washington, DC; and “Strategic Assessment of North Korean Human Environment During Crisis,” United States Forces Korea’s Korean Battle Simulation Center, 2013.



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